A hat trick from Declan O’Brien was enough for Drogheda United to edge past a spirited Cockhill Celtic side 4-2 in the second round of the FAI Cup at United Park.
The veteran striker opened the scoring after only forty two seconds but a penalty from Gerry Gill and a header by Gerard McLaughlin put the Ulster Senior League side in front before O’Brien completed his treble with a Gavan Holohan strike sandwiched in-between.
Drogheda manager Robbie Horgan made four changes from the 6-0 drubbing to St. Patrick’s Athletic last Monday as Dylan Connolly, Alan McNally, Shane Grimes and Declan O’Brien all came into the starting eleven.
As for Cockhill, Mark Moran partnered Gerard McLaughlin up front with star striker Garbhain Friel unavailable.
United have struggled for results as of late but they got off to a dream start as they took the lead within the opening minute. A clever pass by Gary O’Neill released his strike partner down the right wing and O’Brien cut inside to finish across Gavin Cullen in the Cockhill goal.
The home side should have doubled their lead on seven minutes but O’Brien failed to keep his header on target from Grimes’ left wing cross.
Cockhill were awarded a penalty from practically their first attack of the game, McNally was adjudged by referee Neil Doyle to have upended Moran in the box. Drogheda goalkeeper Dylan Connolly guessed the right way but he was powerless to stop Gill’s spot kick.
Despite not playing at their best, the Boynesiders missed several chances to regain the lead. McNally played in O’Neill but the forward’s effort was smothered behind by Cullen on 27 minutes.
Michael Daly, operating in midfield for Drogheda, then sent a curling shot from 25-yards narrowly wide but it was the Hoops who came the closest to taking the lead before the interval as Moran dribbled by two Drogheda defenders in the penalty area before firing inches wide.
Cockhill hit the front a minute into the second half. Having won a free kick deep in the United half, Gill’s wicked delivery was only partially cleared by the United defence and the ball ricocheted off the head of Gerard McLaughlin to give Celtic a shock lead.
Robbie Horgan’s side were then twice denied by the impressive Cullen in goal; he first stopped O’Neill’s header from 12 yards and then reacted acrobatically to parry Brennan’s strike to safety.
Drogheda equalised on 72 minutes as intense goalmouth pressure saw the ball fall into the path of O’Brien and the poacher made no mistake.
The comeback was complete five minutes later as O’Neill’s strike from Brennan’s knockdown was blocked into the path of substitute Holohan, and the midfielder’s shot was too powerful to be stopped.
Cockjill pushed forward in the latter stages of the game looking to level matters but they were caught on the break as Brennan released O’Brien on the halfway line and he coolly picked out the bottom corner of the net for the match ball.
While Cockhill will feel aggrieved by the margin of defeat, progression to the third round of the FAI Cup should relieve some of the pressure on Drogheda boss Robbie Horgan ahead of next Friday’s crucial clash against Athlone Town.
Drogheda United: Dylan Connolly; Daire Doyle, Alan McNally, Paul Crowley, Shane Grimes (Gavan Holohan 63); Cathal Brady (Carl Walshe 60), Sean O’Connor, Michael Daly, Gavin Brennan; Gary O’Neill, Declan O’Brien.
Subs Not Used: Dave Ryan, Dominic Mahon, Phillip Hughes, Eric Foley, Paul Andrews.
Booked: Alan McNally (83)
Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen; Kieran McLaughlin, Conor Keddy, Johhny Halvin, William O’Connor; Malachy McDermott, Gerry Gill (Brendan McLaughlin 88), Derek Doherty (Daniel Doherty 86), James Bradley; Mark Moran (Aidan O’Donnell 73), Gerard McLaughlin.
Subs Not Used: Michael Noone, Paul McKinney, Oisin McCoigan, Tommy Lee Mccarron.
Booked: James Bradley (42)
Referee: Neil Doyle
Attendance: 400 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Declan O’Brien (Drogheda United)